During this twelve week series, I’m sharing stories of women who are on the path from Control Girl to Jesus Girl. Like me, these women would not say that they’ve arrived. They can’t claim to be perfectly Christ-like. But they are heading in a new direction.
My husband has always talked about how much he’s like his mom. They’re both analytical and good with money. They both love being active outdoors. And they are both talented musicians. But I’ve noticed one way that they are completely different. My husband is flexible and easy going. And his mom is a Control Girl.
Early on, it didn’t bother me much when she was insistent and demanding about having her way. But then I got pregnant, and my mother-in-law’s desire to control everything only intensified.
My in-laws live about 150 miles away from us, and though my husband and I both work full time jobs, they began making frequent, impromptu visits. Before, they only visited on Christmas and Easter, but now my mother-in-law decided that Halloween and Valentine’s Day were also good times to come and check on the baby (even though she was months from being born). When I tried to explain that we already had other commitments during a large portion of one unplanned visit, my mother-in-law began pouting and sulking.
A New Level to an Old Problem
All of this paled in comparison, though, to the conversation we had about our baby’s birth. We said that my in-laws could come and visit the baby as much as they liked… while we were still in the hospital. But after we brought the baby home, we asked that they respect our wish to have no visitors for at least a week. This seemed fair and reasonable to us, but to my mother-in-law it was outrageous. She threw an absolute tantrum.
I was appalled and alarmed. For six years now, my mother-in-law had been controlling me by acting disappointed, getting huffy, or by being downright bossy and rude. I began to imagine the ways she would attempt to control us as new parents, or even take over with our daughter. My fear, pain, and anger over all of this prompted me to get some counseling.
My counselor encouraged me to begin setting boundaries. We talked about how to draw lines, and how not to let my mother-in-law cross them. The more we talked about this, the more confident I became. This was good and right. I knew it! Our lives would finally be guarded from frustration, and we would finally be able to show my mother-in-law how her behavior was affecting all of us. We could help her to grow in godliness, which is what she surely wanted!
For months, I rehearsed what I would say to my mother-in-law–my tone sometimes raw and angry and other times gracious and patient. But I never found quite the right time to initiate the boundary conversation. That path was enticing, but I never felt complete peace about venturing down it.
A Different Path
During this time, I also began reading Control Girl. I knew and recognized my own problem with control, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. But God began showing me my heart with new clarity. When I got to the chapter on Hagar, I saw that my craving for control is what causes me to struggle with fellow Control Girls—like my mother-in-law. My own Control Girl tendencies were the driving force behind me wanting to wrestle control back from my mother-in-law and make her understand all of the pain she had inflicted.
At one point in the chapter on Hagar, the question was posed, “What are you trying to escape and what do you want to find?” I knew the answer. What I wanted to escape was my mother-in-law’s control. And what I wanted to find was a way to have control.
I realized that God was inviting me to a different path than the one I was on—a path that leads to freedom, not further bondage to control. God led Hagar to the path of honor, grace, and submission. Rather than prompting her to continue wresting control from her mistress Sarah, God prompted Hagar to endure sorrow and mistreatment. I knew that God was similarly prompting me to endurance–the narrow path to freedom.
Peace and Joy
Our baby girl was born last month. We have had to work through some little patches of conflict with my mother-in-law, but overall there has been more peace and joy between us than I ever could have imagined.
Of course, if my husband and I need to address certain subjects with my mother-in-law we will, but I now feel more peace about my relationship with her than I’ve ever felt. I don’t have to control her! I didn’t realize what a burden I was carrying by trying to do so.
As I interact with my mother-in-law and depend on God for gracious responses (especially regarding the birth of our precious new baby girl), I am clinging to the promise in 1 Peter 2:19: “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly.”
Do you, like Julie, have a controlling person in your life, who is creating tension and frustration?
Consider those questions that Julie did:
What are you trying to escape and what do you want to find?
If the answer is control, perhaps God is inviting you to a different path. Control never leads to the peace and security and joy we imagine. While we shouldn’t cave in to the sin of another person, neither should we take on the burden of trying to control them.
If I insist on taking control of the other Control Girl, often she refuses to change. But I do; I become just like her. Thankfully God sent his Son to show us a better way.
More in the Control Girl to Jesus Girl Series: